The Great Obsolescence of Paper


I was recently asked this really fun question: “What technology will be obsolete in the next 5 years?” One half of me thought of a plethora of ideas: fax machines, printers, paper transactions, USBs, cash, and the list goes on. The other half of me, the developing country counterpart, argues against this.

Take the example of paper products. What are the current problems when transacting with physical paper?

Paper transactions are inefficient.

I met this star recruiter who once found a superb, all-star, software engineer candidate. It took him weeks to convince the candidate to accept the offer (the candidate was pretty hot in the market!) until the candidate finally (verbally) accepted. The candidate, however, was too impatient to find a printer to print the offer letter, sign, and send back to the recruiter. Another company sent this same candidate a DocuSign offer letter, which he was able to sign digitally in minutes. As we move into a fast-paced environment, rife with people who want to make things more efficient (as an excuse for laziness), these sheer efficiencies provide competitive advantages. You can imagine how frustrated my dear recruiter friend was.

Paper is easily destroyed!

Fires, natural disasters, homework-eating dogs — paper is so fleeting. My favorite use case at Ripcord comes from the Dalai Lama, a frequent reader of TechCrunch. In Tibet, there are dozens of historical ancient scriptures, but because these documents are so delicate, there is a chance that this history will fade away. The Dalai Lama wanted to find the best and most efficient way to preserve these scriptures and so reached out to our CEO!

Paper doesn’t harness the potential of data.

At Ripcord, we understand the value of data from analog documents. Imagine as well what sorts of discoveries can be uncovered and extracted from the ancient scriptures in the example above, if only we could preserve their value.

Think about all the theses assignments, law cases, medical records sitting in shelves, gathering dust, when instead, they can be brought to life in more useful ways.

Think about the detrimental impact when a single person’s medical history is lost in these stacks of papers – a life is at stake. If we are able to uncover medical data, there’s the massive potential to discover unknown diseases, find cures and save lives. If they continue to sit in storage warehouses, what’s the use?

What technology trends are contributing to the phase out of paper transactions?

  • Mass conversion of analog to digital (ahem Ripcord!!)
  • Cloud storage that allow for mass dumping (& sharing) of files in one repository
  • Messaging services that allow file sharing
  • Document collaboration software
  • E-signing (DocuSign), emailing, e-everythang!
  • Incentives in accumulating mass data (like in the healthcare example above); especially now with the onset of machine learning in extracting useful pieces of info from seemingly disparate patterns

Why is my mind saying yes but my heart saying no???

While I’m in the U.S., it’s easy to imagine this 5-year future. While I’m in the Philippines, where…

  • Health records are still written down (speaking of which, all my health records are still written on my baby book and are with my pediatrician… I should probably update that)
  • To sign up for an investment account, one must print, sign documents, scan, fax, and wait for a physical receipt to be sent back
  • Most financial transactions are done via bank transfer, which requires paper deposit slips

… it’s harder to imagine a situation wherein systems are not reliant on physical paper to keep systems in place.

Point being, when asked the obsolescence question, it’s a whoooole different timeline for a country that’s 10 years back in technology. There is a long way to go before paper (or other almost nearly phasing technologies) is completely obsolete, but, hey, we’ll get there only 10 years later 🙂